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The Unaddressed Counterintelligence Threat of Rudy Giuliani

The name “Giuliani” shows up, unredacted, just five times in the SSCI Russia Report:

  • A reference to a meeting that Rudy had with Paul Manafort and Trump at 5:30 PM on August 2, 2016, the last thing on Manafort’s calendar before he met with Konstantin Kilimnik to discuss how to win the Midwest, share campaign polling data, and carve up Ukraine.
  • A citation to a Rick Gates 302 that describes that Manafort was relying on Rudy, along with Jared Kushner, in his efforts to try to place people in the new Administration.
  • A footnote citing this story describing Rudy’s meetings with Andrii Telizhenko as part of his search for dirt in support of Trump’s 2020 re-election. The footnote is one of the few unredacted passages in an 8-page section that is part of a larger section describing Manafort’s follow-up on that August 2, 2016 meeting on Ukraine.
  • A footnote describing an email — involving Rudy, Hope Hicks, Dan Scavino, and Stephen Miller — used as an example of Trump’s team incorporating stolen information released by WikiLeaks into Trump’s tweets.
  • A footnote sourcing a rather incredible claim from Psy Group’s Joel Zamel that he first met Jared Kushner via an introduction, months after inauguration, from Rudy.

I raise this not because I think there’s any direct tie between Russia and the coup this week (though I find it interesting that of those scripting WikiLeaks information into Trump tweets, all but Hicks may be seeking a pardon). This coup was an all-American affair, with roots in racist extremism that goes back before the Civil War. Someday, six months from today, we can talk about how this attack was consistent with events started over four years ago, with all the same players in starring roles. But these are American fascists running the show, not Russians.

I raise it, instead, to point out that the single most sustained review of the danger that some of Trump’s closest advisors pose to his presidency almost entirely excluded  one who played the key role in the post-election period, the purported lawyer who — at every step of the way — encouraged the President to take more and more extreme measures to hold on his power.

This coup attempt happened, in significant part, because Rudy had almost unfettered access to the President, Rudy was one of few people who never lost his trust, and Rudy always encouraged the worst decisions from Trump.

The Psy-Group Proposal: A Way to Measure the Value that Russian Hackers Provided the Trump Campaign

On April 15, 2016, Russian hackers searched in DCCC and DNC networks for information on (among other things) Ted Cruz and the Democrats’ field plan.

The Conspirators searched for and identified computers within the DCCC and DNC networks that stored information related to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. For example, on or about April 15, 2016, the Conspirators searched one hacked DCCC computer for terms that included “hillary,” “cruz,” and “trump.” The Conspirators also copied select DCCC folders, including “Benghazi Investigations.” The Conspirators targeted computers containing information such as opposition research and field operation plans for the 2016 elections.

That’s an important detail with which to assess the recent NYT story that, in March, Rick Gates asked Israeli intelligence firm Psy-Group for a proposal on influence operations targeting both Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton. As the NYT story notes, Gates wasn’t actually all that interested in the Psy-Group proposal and there’s no indication anyone in the Trump camp was either.

There is no evidence that the Trump campaign acted on the proposals, and Mr. Gates ultimately was uninterested in Psy-Group’s work, a person with knowledge of the discussions said, in part because other campaign aides were developing a social media strategy.

But he was interested in the services Psy-Group offered, including intelligence gathering and influence operations.

According to Mr. Birnbaum, Mr. Gates expressed interest during that meeting in using social media influence and manipulation as a campaign tool, most immediately to try to sway Republican delegates toward Mr. Trump.

“He was interested in finding the technology to achieve what they were looking for,” Mr. Birnbaum said in an interview. Through a lawyer, Mr. Gates declined to comment.

[snip]

The proposal to gather information about Mrs. Clinton and her aides has elements of traditional opposition research, but it also contains cryptic language that suggests using clandestine means to build “intelligence dossiers.” [I’ve switched the order of these passages]

So aside from context for the meeting Psy-Group owner Joel Zamel had with Don Jr (and any downstream arrangement the two had), it’s not clear what the report itself means for Mueller’s investigation, with regards to Psy-Group, particularly given claims that the group closely vetted their programs for legal compliance (though NYT was unable to learn whether Covington & Burling had given a green light for this campaign).

But the report that Gates was seeking proposals in March 2016 and the guts of the report are interesting for what they say about the mindset that Gates and Manafort brought to, first, the Convention and after that managing the entire campaign.

The materials Psy-Group provided in response to a Gates request provide at least three things that may be useful for a Mueller prosecution. First, they show that the Russian hackers were working on the same schedule that Gates and Manafort were, with initial data collection slotted for April.

The report also shows what kind of targets the Trump team knew would be resistant to messaging directly from Trump, and so should be targeted by unaffiliated online assets, including fictional avatars.

These groups — especially minority and swing voters — were precisely the groups that Russian trolls and Cambridge Analytica’s dark marketing targeted.

Likewise, Russian hackers may well have shared what amounted to intelligence dossiers with Trump.

Finally, the Psy-Group proposal also provides a dollar figure for the value of these kinds of services. That provides Mueller with a way to show the kind of financial benefit Trump received from both the Russian efforts and whatever efforts Cambridge Analytica gave to Trump for free (or coordinated on illegally): $3.31 million dollars.

The above proposed activity will cost $3,210,000. This does not include the cost of media, which will be billed at cost + 20% management fee and pre-approved with the client in advance prior to committing and spending. We estimate media cost at around $100,000 at this point (mostly social / online media).

One charge we know (from Manafort’s warrant applications) that Mueller is considering is receiving a thing of value from a foreigner. This proposal measures what kind of value Trump’s campaign received from the Russians.

It may be that Psy-Group poses a risk to Trump’s people directly, perhaps as a way to understand Israel’s role as a cut-out for Russia, or as a way to prove that Don Jr lied under oath about his willingness to accept gifts from foreigners. But even without that, the Psy-Group proposal provides a real time measure of how Trump’s campaign under Manafort planned to run their campaign.

 As I said in July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

The Psy-Group Presentation Suggests Online Trolls Swung Richard Burr’s State of North Carolina

The WSJ reports that Mueller’s team has obtained an analytical document from Psy-Group, the company of Joel Zamel, that was offering to help the Trump campaign both before and after the election.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators have obtained a presentation prepared by an Israel-based private intelligence firm that outlines ways in which Donald Trump’s 2016 election was helped by fake news and fake social-media accounts, according to people familiar with the presentation and documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

[snip]

Psy-Group’s founder, Joel Zamel, is under scrutiny from U.S. investigators because of his close relationship with the government of the United Arab Emirates and his involvement in a meeting with Mr. Trump’s eldest son shortly before election day, the Journal has reported.

Mr. Zamel met with Donald Trump Jr. at Trump Tower in the weeks before the 2016 election along with George Nader, a top adviser to the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates, to discuss an offer to help boost the campaign, according to people familiar with the matter. Erik Prince, a U.S. defense contractor who specializes in the Middle East and had close ties to the campaign, attended the meeting, the Journal previously reported. People involved in the meeting say nothing came of it and the Psy-Group didn’t perform any work for the Trump campaign.

The presentation the Special Counsel is apparently scrutinizing is 9 pages; most pages describe generically how to seed bots to later swing opinion. But there’s one page that purports to show how this works in a swing state. That swing state in North Carolina.

While we can’t measure Psy-Group’s claims without a script, it seems that the group claims social media helped Trump turn a 7 point deficit in the wake of the Access Hollywood tape to a 4 point win on election day.

NC is an interesting choice because Trump also benefitted from the most aggressive voter suppression drive in the state. And because it’s the state for which Russian hacking — of VR Systems and, possibly, of poll books in disproportionately democratic precincts — may have actually affected the election.

It’s interesting for one more reason: it’s the state of Senate Intelligence Committee Chair (and Trump NatSec advisor, during the election) Richard Burr. Burr won his race by more than Trump did, but still within the scope of the swing mapped out by Psy-Group.

As I noted, the election tampering report generated by Burr’s committee, largely failed to address the vulnerability and importance of vendors like VR Systems.

Obviously, if trolls made the difference in NC, they also made the difference in PA, MI, and WI.

But we might not find that out, because the guy in charge of the purportedly responsible investigation of such things has scoped the investigation in such a way that his own re-election could not be questioned.